Is it wife-swapping or wife-shopping?

It’s a primitive practice that can put any Hollywood (or Bollywood!) film on wife swapping to shame. The men belonging to “Pinchapuri” sect of Yerukala community in the district can’t make do with just one wife. Bigamy, even polygamy, is common in this sect. And if you thought that’s the end of the story, well, the plot has only begun.

For this Pinchapuri man, having a bevy of wives (sometimes up to five) strutting around him can get boring over time. Once he thinks he’s had enough of his wife, he sells her. However, if the woman does not like the buyer, she can say no and the deal is off. So much for women’s freedom!

As is the case with any other ‘product’, the tariff differs here too. The more beautiful and youthful the woman, the higher the price. So, a not-so-good-looking woman, warts and all, easily loses her soon-to-be-ex-husband to a ‘superior’ rival.

Wonder if it’s wife-swapping or wife-shopping? A mingled sense of confusion and utter disgust hits when Subbaiah says: “I sold my first wife for Rs.18, 000 only because she wasn’t that good-looking. But, I shelled out Rs.58, 000 to buy my two other wives.”

Done deal? Not yet. He’s now planning to sell one of the two, and buy another.

Like him, almost all Pinchapuri men indulge in this orgy. The women don’t mind being herded along either. After all, that’s the only life they know.

But the way the sect rationalises this trade sends the intrigue-o-meter spinning. Wife shopping is neither a crime nor a taboo for the 5,000-odd community people. In fact, it’s their way of preventing extra-marital affairs. Does that mean, the men of Sabari Colony near Jammalamadugu who have at least five wives, are that much more honest?

“If a man likes someone else’s wife, and she reciprocates, we allow them to become husband and wife after the deal is through. This eliminates extra-marital affairs. The selling occurs in the presence of mediators and the caste headman only after the woman gives her consent. If she says no, the deal is off,” Subbaiah explains.

The sect has thought about posterity too. The children live with their mother and the stepfather, but the biological father is their rightful ‘owner’.

In reality, however, once a man sells his wife, he doesn’t give two hoots for his children. Never a burden on their parents, these children take to begging, sometimes at 5-6 years, to feed their elders. The teenagers rear pigs or help their parents make broomsticks, the age-old profession of the sect.

They travel to Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore to sell the artistic goods and earn a handsome income. The community is spread over Jammalamadugu, Mydukur, Badvel and Porumamilla in the district.

While the women and children work hard, the men splurge on wife shopping or alcohol. This goes on despite the fact that they live in small huts, lack proper clothing and even food.

How do these ‘replaceable commodities’ feel? “We have a say. The deal is through only when we give our consent. There is no coercion,” Laxmamma, who was bought by Sreeramulu said. For the record: Sreeramulu has three wives.

Do they care for society’s criticism, if at all? Sreeramulu strikes back: “Who cares? We are free and independent.”